In the latest quarterly civilian casualty assessment report period ending Mar. 31, 2021, U.S. Africa Command received two new reports of civilian casualties and closed out two of three open cases. This is the fifth quarterly civilian casualty assessment report since U.S. Africa Command began releasing reports in April 2020 as part of its commitment to increased transparency and accountability.
During the quarter, the command completed two assessments of reports of civilian casualties. One assessment remains open and under review. In addition, the command conducted a roundtable discussion with seven Non-Government Organizations (NGO) to discuss civilian casualty processes.
“It is important that we maintain transparency of our civilian casualty reporting processes,” said U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa Command. “We will continue to refine our processes to ensure our partners and the public recognize our commitment to minimizing civilian casualties whenever possible.”
The command continues to look for ways to increase transparency and consider other viewpoints on our processes.
“U.S. Africa Command appreciates the opportunity to engage in frank and honest discussions with Non-Governmental Organizations,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Christopher Karns, director, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs. “These engagements provide U.S. Africa Command opportunities to increase our ability to mitigate civilian casualties and build increased understanding of the purpose of our operations where we can.”
Continuing to apply pressure on the al-Shabaab network using a variety of means remains important to Somali and U.S. security interests.
"Al-Shabaab has carried out deadly suicide and terror attacks in Somalia including recent attacks targeting Danab leadership as well as recent bombing campaigns that have displaced thousands of Somali civilians,” said Townsend. “We will continue to support our partners and disrupt al-Shabaab's efforts."
On Mar. 4, 2021, U.S. Africa Command met with seven NGOs in an ongoing effort to refine processes and procedures related to preventing, mitigating and assessing reported civilian casualties, and to gain a better understanding of the concerns NGOs have with the command’s processes.
The roundtable included participants from the U.S. Africa Command staff who are directly involved in working with civilian casualty matters. The wide-ranging discussion provided the NGOs an opportunity to identify and provide recommendations for improvement to U.S. Africa Command’s processes. U.S. Africa Command is studying many of the suggestions resulting from the meeting with NGOs.
U.S. Africa Command’s assessment of reports of civilian casualties occasionally differs from other organizations, including NGOs, for a number of reasons. The command’s information is based on layered intelligence sources and classified operational reporting which are not available to the public. This can contribute to perceived discrepancies between the command’s results and those of others.
Consistent with the Department of Defense Law of War Manual, “civilian” and “combatant” are defined as follows:
Civilian: Persons who are not combatants (members of military/security forces or members of either a declared hostile force or an organized armed group of a party to an armed conflict).
Civilians may lose their protection against attacks if demonstrating hostile intent, engaging in a hostile act, or for such time as they take direct part in hostilities; but they retain or regain such protection when they cease said conduct, or if they become wounded, sick, detained, or surrender, and thereby are unable to continue said conduct.
Combatant: Persons directly participating in an armed conflict, or persons whose hostile actions have purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States. Individuals who are formally or functionally part of a non-State armed group that is engaged in hostilities may be made the object of attack because they likewise share in their group’s hostile intent.
This report reflects results of civilian casualty assessments previously reported as open that are now closed or remain under assessment, and reports of possible civilian casualties the command received during the reporting period. Any new intelligence or information relating to a current or closed case will be reviewed to determine if the new information alters the assessment, and will be included in the following quarterly civilian casualty report.
Note: Where reports of civilian casualties are determined to be unsubstantiated, it means there was insufficient information to validate or substantiate the reports. When new information is received, a report of civilian casualties can be reassessed. Until that occurs, the assessment is considered complete.
Jan. 2, 2021, U.S. Africa Command received one (1) report from an online media source claiming three (3) civilians were injured as a result of a U.S. airstrike in the vicinity of Qunyo Barrow, Somalia, on Jan. 1, 2021. U.S. Africa Command’s assessment of this report is ongoing.